4/4: Easley shining as defense beings to solidify

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice in full swing, a number of the team’s defensive players were made available to the media to begin the fourth week of action. The defensive front seven seemed like a more cohesive unit than they were one year ago, as evidenced by some of the news and quotes provided on Monday.

EASLEY BECOMING EXPLOSIVE

Asked to pick a defensive teammate shining this spring, everyone pointed to sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who barely played last year and was in the dog house due to alleged attitude and personal problems. The story is quite the opposite this season, with players raving about how dominant he has been coming off the line.

“This defensive line I can definitely say is a big difference from last year. Easley – that’s probably the fastest I’ve ever seen somebody get off the ball,” junior linebacker Jon Bostic said. “As soon as the center says ‘hut,’ Jon Harrison is two yards in the backfield. His get-off is crazy. Sometimes when you pause the film and just look, every other defensive lineman is taking half a step or one step and he’s taken two or three.”

Sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell concurred. “Easley is so explosive off the ball. His get-off is just ridiculous,” he said. “It makes it hard for guys to block him because by the time they snap the ball and get ready for the block, he’s already past them.”

Not only has Easley’s play improved, his attitude has as well. Part of the reason he is still wearing the orange and blue is because his classmates picked him up when he was down. “I was one of the guys that was sticking with him, talking to him,” Powell said of Easley’s struggles in 2010. “Coming into this thing, we all chose to come here together, so we decided to stay here together.”

Fellow sophomore DT Sharrif Floyd deferred the attitude talk but spoke about Easley’s ability on the field. “Maturity-wise, I guess that’s a good question for him,” he said. “On the field he takes care of his stuff and he’s doing a great job of firing off the ball. He’s gotten more explosive than last year.” He also said that the duo can cause “a lot of problems” if they work at it. “He’s got that get-off-the-ball penetration, and I’ve got the power. [It’s a] great combination, going to cause a lot of havoc,” he said.

OFFENSE TOUGH TO DEFEND

The Gators’ defense may be ahead of the offense at this point, but Bositc said Monday that doesn’t mean they aren’t giving his unit fits during practice. “Just all the different looks they’re giving us. They run a lot of different combination routes with the receivers, the way they’re running routes,” he said. “[It] is actually helping us out as a defense [because] we may need to change this, may need to change that.”

Floyd believes the offensive line as a whole is “starting to come together more” even though they are dealing with a massive amount of injuries. Powell agreed, pointing out two players in particular who impress him on a day-to-day basis. “Jon Halapio is a beast, man-child, doing great things on and off the field,” Powell said. “[He’s] just a great guy. You’d never know he’s the type of player he is when you see him off the field. He’s kind of a cuddly guy. On the field, he’s rough – rough. […] Chaz Green is a great player. Definitely going to be an outstanding tackle for the Gators.”

DEFENSE MORE DETAILED BUT ALSO MORE FUN

For a young group of players, having to learn a brand new defense from the ground up can be difficult. Florida’s front seven seem to be adapting to it well overall.

“I wouldn’t say the concepts are too hard, it’s just really a lot of plays – a lot more plays than in the past,” Bostic said before discussing the style of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “I like it. I know a lot of the younger guys like it, too,” he added. “He sits down and makes sure you understand the concepts and what’s going on out there on the field. He talks everything through with you.”

Powell shared Bostic’s opinions about the coaching staff’s teaching methods. “I love the way the coaches are getting after us and making us better,” he said. “If you want to be great, you got to be pushed.” He also commented about his new hybrid position on the defense. “I love it. I think it’s good for me, definitely gives me an opportunity to make some good plays and do big things for the Gators this year.”

With such limited time in the spring, Floyd realizes what matters now is doing the best they can on a practice-by-practice basis. “We’re making great progress and learning more each day, just getting better and doing what we can do,” he said.

QUOTES

Easley on his struggles in 2010*: “I was just a freshman going through a phase. I’m over it now and I’m going on to the season. […] Almost every freshman gets homesick. I went through it. Now, this is my home.”

Easley on what the team is trying to accomplish*: “We’re playing as a team. Everybody wants one goal – to win a national championship. Everyone is striving for one thing. That’s what you want on a team.”

Easley on if he was going to transfer*: “I never thought different. I never thought I was going anywhere else.”

Powell on freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel’s personality: “He’s a funny dude – real funny. Definitely serious about his plays and his books and stuff like that, but he’s real funny off the field.”

Powell on the defense coming together: “I knew a lot of these guys had it in them. It was just a matter of when we were going to start showing our talent.”

Powell on the best hit he’s seen this spring:Matt Elam came down and hit Mack Brown – one of the biggest hits I’ve seen.”

Quotes marked with * are courtesy of The Gainesville Sun.

Gators C Mike Pouncey will attend NFL Draft

Planning to follow in his brother’s footsteps of being a first-round selection, former Florida Gators center/guard Mike Pouncey has accepted an invitation from the league to attend the 2011 NFL Draft on April 28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY.

Pouncey has let it known that his goal is to be picked ahead of his brother Maurkice Pouncey, who was selected No. 18 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He is considered the top interior offensive lineman in the draft and has been projected by analysts to potentially go as high as No. 15 to the Miami Dolphins.

Since showcasing his talent for coaches and scouts at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN and Pro Day in Gainesville, FL, Pouncey has been conducting private workouts with teams potentially interested in drafting him and will continue to do so as draft day approaches.

Beal wins Gatorade National Player of the Year

Florida Gators five-star signee Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) was named the 2010-11 Gatorade National Player of the Year on Monday.

Standing 6’4” and 205 lbs., Beal averaged 32.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 steals per game this season while shooting 73 percent from the field for Chaminade College Preparatory School. He led his team to a 27-1 record in his senior year and concluded his career with 2,634 points.

In addition to being a fantastic basketball player, Beal is also a model student. He has a 91.7 average in the classroom and does plenty of volunteer work when he’s not studying or playing.

“This was a year full of outstanding candidates for Gatorade Player of the Year, so Bradley Beal winning says a lot about how perfectly he exemplifies everything the award is about,” said ESPN’s national director of recruiting for basketball, Paul Biancardi, in an official release. “As a player, he’s one of the best shooters in all of high school basketball, and beyond that, he’s improved his game so he can use dribble-penetration to shake defenders, he’s rebounding at a high margin, his passing is improved and, as a result, he’s become one of the best all-around guards in the country. When you look at his makeup, he has a unique ability to help his team win. There’s not a greater complement than that.”

Beal, who won the Gatorade Player of the Year award for the state of Missouri in 2009-10 and 2010-11, is the first Florida commitment to earn the national honor.

Photo Credit: Wiley Price/The St. Louis American

Elway on verge of pushing Tebow out of Denver?

Though he has denied the rumors since he has taken the job, nothing that new Denver Broncos president John Elway has done – regardless of the damage control he is trying to send through the media – has indicated that he believes former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow is his starting signal-caller of the future.

Denver has been taking a very close look at a number of athletic rookie QBs including Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick and plans to select a passer in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, according to ESPN’s John Clayton and Sports Illustrated’s Tony Pauline.

“[Elway’s] bold enough to think Tebow isn’t the answer. […] I’m starting to think Elway might take a QB in the second round and call the Tebow selection a mistake,” Clayton opined based on what he is hearing around the league.

Pauline shared a similar but more fact-based sentiment. “Sources have told us a while ago they expect the Denver Broncos to draft a quarterback this year and it could be early,” he wrote on Sunday. “Many familiar with the situation told us Tim Tebow is not the quarterback for John Elway – and with the future Hall of Fame passer calling many of the shots for the franchise a signal caller is a priority.”

This is all coming to light exactly two months after Elway and new head coach John Fox indicated without much provocation that veteran Kyle Orton would most likely start the season as the team’s quarterback.

Tebow, who has quickly become a fan favorite in Mile High, is already one of the most popular players in the NFL and has a ton of support from the Broncos faithful, may never get the chance to prove himself to management over a full season after having relative success in three starts to end 2010.

Asked two weeks ago by the Denver Post why the Broncos were working out so many signal callers, Elway had this to say: “We’re always looking for that guy. We may already have the guy who can pull the trigger and win us a championship someday. We may have him. We don’t know. We believe in Tim, but he’s not there yet.”

Contrary to Elway’s statement, the way he and the Denver front office are looking for a quarterback this offseason, it does not appear they believe in Tebow much at all.

Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Florida baseball sweeps; softball gets swept

Both marred in slumps in Southeastern Conference play, Florida Gators baseball and softball took divergent paths over the weekend. Breaking out of the doldrums, the No. 3/4 baseball team improved to 24-5 with a three-game sweep of the Tennessee Volunteers at home, while No. 5/5 softball lost their sixth-straight game and fell to 30-7 after being swept over three contests by the No. 23/24 Kentucky Wildcats on the road.

BASEBALL

After going 1-3 from March 25-29, Florida (24-5, 7-2 SEC) rebounded and outscored Tennessee (19-9, 2-7 SEC) 23-3 over a three-game period to recapture the form they’ve had most of the season.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (5-0) took the mound Friday for the Gators and pitched his second-straight complete game to lead his team to a 3-0 victory. Randall’s complete game shutout was Florida’s first since 2004; he struck out four and only gave up four hits in the contest. Sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox (1-4, HR, 2 RBI, R) got the Gators on the board early with a two-run homer in the bottom of the second, and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (1-4) scored on a wild pitch in the eight to notch UF’s only other run of the day.

Florida’s offense exploded on Saturday as sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-4, 6 RBI, R, BB) continued his fantastic season by knocking in six runs and collecting a trio of hits on the afternoon. Joining him with great performances at the plate were junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (2-4, HR, 2 RBI, R, BB) and senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-2, 2 R). Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson started the game for the Gators but was pulled after giving up two earned runs on four hits with five strikeouts in 5.1 innings. He was replaced by junior RHP Anthony DeSclafani (4-0), who collected the victory in 2.2 innings of work.

UF’s performance Sunday mirrored their effort Saturday as they thwarted UT 9-1 to complete the three-game sweep. Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (4-0) got the Gators started by striking out six in 5.0 inning to earn the win; Florida used four relievers to complete the game. Maddox (3-3, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) piled on the runs at the plate and was backed-up with great performances by Fontana (2-4, 2 RBI), Zunino (1-3, 3 R, 2 BB) and Adams (1-3, 2 RBI, BB). Already up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Gators scored five additional runs in the frame to put the game out of reach for the Vols.

SOFTBALL

On a three-game losing streak after being swept by Georgia one week ago, Florida (30-7, 7-6 SEC) continued to flounder over the weekend as Kentucky (25-7, 11-3 SEC) outscored them 26-10 over the course of three games in Lexington, KY.

Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers was lit up Friday as she allowed 11 hits and 10 earned runs while striking out six. She did not receive much help from her teammates as the Gators only crossed the plate twice on a pair of solo homers from senior LF Kelsey Bruder (1-3, HR, RBI, R) and sophomore C Brittany Schutte (1-3, HR, RBI, R).

Rogers’s struggles continued Saturday as she gathered her second loss after allowing six earned runs – including three in the opening frame – on nine hits in six full innings. UF actually lead 6-3 after putting up a five-run fourth inning, but Rogers let UK retake the lead by scoring four runs in the bottom of the inning. Senior second baseman Aja Paculba (1-4, HR, 3 RBI, R) put up most of Florida’s runs, but sophomore pinch hitter Samantha Holle (1-1, 2 RBI) and senior first baseman Megan Bush (1-4, RBI) drove in the others.

The weekend came to a rough conclusion Sunday with Rogers (16-5) dropping her fourth-straight decision by letting the Wildcats rock her for nine earned runs on seven hits. The Gators were doomed from the start as their opponent scored eight runs in the bottom of the first inning and held on for the victory. Florida’s only offense came in the top of the fifth when Paculba (1-4, 2 RBI) hit a two-run double with one out.

Why is the softball team struggling? In addition to Florida’s bats going cold (they were averaging 12.2 runs per game in the six contests prior to the start of their losing streak), the team is forced to continue pitching Rogers while dealing with the loss of senior ace RHP Stephanie Brombacher, who has been sidelined since March 12 with a multitude of arm injuries. UF has plenty of time to right the ship with 18 games (including 12 at home) remaining until SEC postseason competition begins on May 12.

Raiders WR Murphy arrested in Gainesville

Former Florida Gators wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested early Sunday morning in Gainesville, FL and charged with three misdemeanors including failure to obey a police officer, possession of a drug without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence, according to The Gainesville Sun.

Per the police report, an officer attempted to pull over the Oakland Raiders star pass-catcher when he spotted him in his car with a group of people and the stereo playing at a high volume. Murphy reportedly ignored the siren, parked in a spot and walked away from the pursuing officer with the rest of his group. When the officer finally got Murphy to stop, he allegedly refused to present identification and was eventually put in handcuffs by three officers when he also refused to put his hands behind his back.

Murphy then allowed the officer to search his vehicle, where the report states that a “non-labeled prescription bottle” of Viagra was found. He told the officer that there was no label remaining on the bottle “because he did not want his girlfriend to know he had a prescription for it,” the police report states.

Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

McCall a top candidate for vacant assistant job

Florida Atlantic Owls assistant coach Matt McCall is a top candidate for the vacant position on Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan’s coaching staff, two sources close to the team told OGGOA over the weekend.

The University of Florida’s director of basketball operations from 2004-08, McCall spent seven years under Donovan also serving as a team manager, head manager and graduate assistant. Donovan, who said last week that he wanted a young assistant to fill the spot vacated when Larry Shyatt departed for the head coaching job with the Wyoming Cowboys, has always held McCall in high regard.

Back in 2008, Donovan called him “a tireless worker and a first-class person” who “knows the state of Florida,” brings “the energy and passion necessary to be successful” and is someone he views “as one of the bright young minds” in coaching.

McCall has worked at FAU since 2008 and is one of head coach Mike Jarvis’s top assistants. He is responsible for bringing in the Owls’ best player, Gainesville native Greg Gantt, who averaged a team-high 14 points per game as a sophomore.

Should McCall be the one chosen for the position, the Ocala native and former all-area player would be returning home to North-Central Florida. If he joins the team, he would likely be Donovan’s third assistant on the bench with Rob Lanier taking over Shyatt’s duties and Richard Pitino continuing in his role.

4/1: Health of Florida’s linemen a concern, etc.

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media at the conclusion of the third week on Friday. Maintaining a serious and balanced demeanor, Muschamp discussed a number of topics including the team’s health at the line of scrimmage, how many days of practice have actually been successful and how both players and coaches are performing thus far.

OFFENSIVE LINE BANGED UP

An ongoing story throughout spring practice is that linemen on both sides of the ball are missing much-needed time on the field due to injury. Another player was officially added to that list Friday. Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Nick Alajajian, who wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday that he tore his meniscus in practice, will officially miss the remainder of the spring after undergoing surgery that will sideline him for approximately three months. Also currently out of action is junior tackle Xavier Nixon, who sprained his ankle but should be back in action on Monday.

Asked how many players are functional now on the offensive line, Muschamp was quite forthcoming in his reply. “We’re working about seven. That’s total bodies, too. That’s all we got,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. There’s nobody feeling sorry for the Gators right now, I can tell you that. You got to have other guys step up. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. Somebody else has got to step up. You build depth on your football team through these situations; you find out a lot more about your football team in these situations. It’s something that happens. We don’t have any excuses around here.”

Because Florida is getting thin up front on both sides of the ball, the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut on April 9 may be a bit of a mix-and-match between the two squads. “We need to have a good functional day within teaching our schemes. We’re too thin to divide up,” Muschamp said. “I don’t want to get a guy matched up in a bad mismatch issue and you can’t get the ball off in some situations. That certainly can happen, especially as thin as we are. That’s the operation we’re going to have. We met as a staff [Friday] morning, talked about the spring game and the procedures we will go through.”

PLAYMAKERS PROVIDING A MEASURE OF CONSISTENCY

The Gators had a tough time making dynamic plays on offense in 2010, but Muschamp was happy to discuss how some of his offensive playmakers have performed so far in practice. Speaking of the wide receivers, he called redshirt juniors Frankie Hammond, Jr. and Omarius Hines the most consistent while raving about sophomore Quinton Dunbar’s ability to stretch the field in the vertical passing game. “He’s a guy that’s really a weapon outside,” said Muschamp of Dunbar. He also noted that redshirt senior Deonte Thompson “has done some nice things” and that redshirt sophomore Andre Debose (sprained ankle) will be back in action early next week.

Above anyone else, Muschamp went out of his way to praise redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed’s progress. “Jordan Reed is having a really good spring at tight end,” he said. “He’s a match-up issue for a defense. What are you going to put on him in your mans and your zones? He’s able to stretch the field vertically, block on the perimeter, block on the edge, block at the point of attack. I’ve been very pleased with his spring.” Getting the ball to these players will be redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, of whom Muschamp also offered positive reviews. “He’s managing out football team very well,” he said. “He’s got a lot on his plate. It’s a quarterback system as far as in the run game and pass game. We’re very pleased with where he is at this point.”

PRACTICING HARD AND INCREASING FLEXIBILITY

Out of the 10 practices that Florida has held up to this point, Muschamp said that nine have been great. The other? He doesn’t think the team made much progress in that one. However, he thinks the team is responding great overall. “The guys are working very hard. We’ve had great off days of watching film and learning,” he said. “For the most part, they’re paying attention to great detail in what we’re trying to do and learning what we do. It’s not just about learning what to do, learning why we do it is important, too.”

Stressing the ability for his players to perform at multiple positions, Muschamp noted that redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray has also been playing some SAM linebacker and that redshirt junior defensive tackle Earl Okine has also seen time at end. “There’s been some pleasant surprises for us in some cross-training work,” he said. The biggest surprise is certainly redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison, who moved from guard to center and is learning the position at a fast pace. “Jon Harrison at center is a guy that’s done a nice job,” Muschamp said. “There’s an awful lot on the center as far as snapping and blocking. If you’ve never done it before, there’s an awful lot to it. I’ve been pleased with his progress.”

NOTES & QUOTES

» Sophomore running back Mack Brown had successful surgery on a broken fibula and remains on track to return to action in July.

» On what has been worked on recently in practice: “We’ve really [done] a lot of situational work as far as red zone, third down, coming off the goal line, end of game situations that come up. We’ve got a very experienced staff of guys that have come up with a lot of different situations that we’ll practice and go through. Because in this league, we’re going to have four or five games that will come down to the end of the game, and you’ve got to be good at the end of the game. [It’s about] making good decisions – not just as coaches but as players.”

» On if four-star QB Jacoby Brissett has received any teaching yet: “Jacoby came up during his spring break and spent three or four days with us sitting in the meetings and being out at practice. He will spend more time obviously when summer comes in. We’ve got a video playbook that we go through with our players that we put together on both sides of the ball that’s more teaching terminology, formations, sets, routes, run game. We have a pretty extensive video that you can learn from so when you get here you’re familiar with the terminology.”

» On allowing redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey to talk to the media after he was shunned in 2010: “I don’t know about last year. Chris is going to be a productive football player for us. I trust him. Chris Rainey has worked tremendously hard since I’ve been here. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. There’s been nothing that has been any glitch as far as how he’s performed on- and off-the-field for us since I’ve been at the University of Florida. That’s really all I go off of. We all go through a maturing stage in our life. Whatever happened, maybe he grew up from and learned from.”

» On offensive line coach Frank Verducci: “Frank is a great teacher. He’s not a holler and a screamer. Most of these offensive line coaches, they just want to hear themselves talk. Frank doe s a great job of teaching; he teaches the players very professionally. He does a great job of communicating with players about what to do and how to do it, demands great effort. I’ve been very pleased with their execution up to this point.” He also said that Verducci and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis have a noticeably great working relationship that is already paying dividends for the team.

» On defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson: “Travaris Robinson is an outstanding football coach. He has tremendous knowledge and appeals to young people. They gravitate to him as a coach, as a person. He does a phenomenal job on the field as far as coaching, getting the message across and the players playing for him. Motivation of players is as much important to me as far as teaching is concerned, that’s part of it. He certainly inspires learning in our group.”

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